Starlog #121 August 1987
Copyright 1987 by O'Quinn Studios, Inc.
Reprinted without permission.
Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
by Eddie Berganza
A BIONIC MAN, A SUPERTROOPER, A TELEPATH AND A COMPUTER GENIUS TEAM-UP AS THE EXTRA-POWERED PIONEERS OF THE FINAL FRONTIER, SPEEDING THROUGH HYPERSPACE IN ANIMATED ADVENTURES OF COWBOYS AND ALIENS.
In 2086, two peaceful aliens journey to Earth seeking our help. In return, they gave us the plans for first hyperdrive, allowing mankind to open the doors to the stars.
We have assembled a team of unique individuals to protect Earth and our allies. Courageous pioneers committed to the highest ideals of justice and dedicated to preserving law and order across the new frontier.
These are the Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers.
"It started out as an SF action-adventure in space about a police force," explains Robert Mandell, the syndicated series' creator/producer and ITC Entertainment vet. "It really evolved because the show needed a handle. The basic story of Rangers--the idea of having two aliens coming to Earth looking for help--was always there. And in the back of my mind, I guess, I always knew it was based on _The_Magnificent_Seven and _Seven_Samurai_, but the obvious never hit me."
"I was very lucky to meet a guy named Bob Chrestani, who was an agent for William Morris," Mandell continues. "I showed him the presentation, which was then called Beta Force. He loved it and immediately signed the project representation. It was Bob who brought the obvious to my attention. He said 'Well, what's your story?' I told him two aliens come to Earth--_Seven_Samurai_, _Magnificent_Seven_. And he said 'Wll, you're crazy. It's sitting right in front of you. It's a space _Western_. It has all the classic Western themes, the main one being justified violence, which is what all Westerns have been built on--lawlessness, new frontier and pioneers exploring unknown territories.' Once we had the space Western hook, things suddenly started to click. We developed the _Galaxy_Ragners_ name together. The response I began to get from various financing groups was totally differnet. It was as if I came up with the greatest thing since _Star_Trek_."
Like the characters of that _Wagon_Train_ to the stars, Mandell wanted to make his Rangers as real as possible. "Throughout the series' run, we tried to base an episode on each Ranger to show their background," notes Mandell.
"The leader of the group, Zachary Foxx, was always our straight-ahead West-Point-mentality soldier. He is always doing things by regulations. We designed him to be in direct conflict with Shane Gooseman [the group's shape-changer]," adds Mandell, "who doesn't do anything by the book. He's our Dirty Harry."
"It was very important for me to set their characters from the beginning so that the interaction between the four Rangers would be very strong and the dialogue could reflect a little bit of the characters' histories and personalities without being obvious. For example, the conflict between Zack and Goose has helped establish their backgrounds."
"Zach was never our most colorful character and we played off that quality. Because he comes from a world of perfect order, he likes to see things in certain ways, but in reality, nothing works that way--especially in the whole new universe he now can explore."
WHEN RANGERS CLASH
Continuing his conservative characterization, Foxx is the only Ranger who is married with children. Mandell, though, did throw a wrench into the man's seemingly simple life. "We wanted Zack to have his own personal conflict and that turned out to be his bionics," Mandell explans, noting a certain irony. "He never really trusted machinery or hardware, but then he has an accident where suddently, it is machinery and hardware that saves his life. Now, he has this interal conflict with how to deal with his own bionics."
"We never really got a chance to explore that too much," Mandell says, "because along came Goose. Since he turned out to be such a colorful figure, we started catering more stories toward him. Supertroopers was such a great concept in its own right--the last of the genetically bred soldiers who Goose grew up with in a training camp. He was the one Supertrooper with developed compassion and true human emotions. And due to a bizzare experiment, all the other Supertroopers went crazy, revolted and broke away, forming an evil force. Gooseman stayed on with the Bureau of Extraterrestial Affairs (BETA) and eventually became a Galaxy Ranger."
"Because of his background as a Supertrooper, the Board of Leaders didn't really trust him. The only way they could let him become a Galaxy Ranger was if he became a bounty hunter and went out and brought all the other Supertroopers back in. His conflict then is that he has to capture all his friends--dead or alive. Of course, that fit so well into our Western theme."
"Niko has been kind of a special character for us because we wanted a female lead who would be able to handle herself as well as the men," Mandell remarks. "She has psi powers, her abilities range from telekinesis to constructing force fields. But the concept is still that all the Rangers' powers are based on natural ablities and amplified by a computer implant in their brains. The Series Five Brain Implants are charged by these energy chambers the Rangers stand in. The amplification lasts a certain amount of time depending how powerful the charge is. SO even the Rangers don't really know how far they can push their powers."
"The only Ranger we couldn't cover was Doc," says Mandell. "He turned out to be one of everybody's favorite characters, and got so much time on his own that we never got a chance to do his origin episode."
Though not an origin, Walter "Doc" Hartford (don't call him "Wally") has been showcased in episodes like "Murder on the Andorian Express." A _Galaxy_Rangers_ version of an Agatha Christie mystery, the story has Doc and fellow Ranger Niko trying to solbe the mysterious demise of an ambassador aboard the luxury spaceliner, S.S. Christie. Such whimsical predicaments suit the team's cimpter wizard (who bears a bizzare resemblance to Billy Dee Williams) much more than the other three Rangers.
Drawing their wagons around the Galaxy Rangers are an equally well-developed supporting cast. Most important are the series' two amiable alien instigators. Waldo, an Andorian, is a member of the oldest and most advanced culture in the galaxy, while Zozo is an emotional Kiwi from the underdeveloped farm planet of Kirwin. "A very strong underlying theme of _Rangers_ is low-tech vs. hi-tech," says Mandell. "We like to expose the Rangers and their hi-tech devices to the low-tech cultures with which they deal."
Other characters that populate the series are Buzzwang, a courageous, break-dancing robot Ranger; Maya, the rebellious Princess of Tarkon, a planet that distains all technology; Lazarus Slade, a Southern gentleman scientist bent on world domination; Daisy O'Mega, a sweet lass with a thick brogue and a penchant for crime--she leads the villanous Black Hole Gang with a swarthy knave named McCross; and Mogul the space sorcerer, whose evil deeds are thwarted by his incompetent assistant Larry.
Some characters worked bettern than others and some just didn't work. "I hae to say it, but we had many problems with Captain Kidd," says Mandell of his alien space pirate creation. "We never could find the right place for Kidd. Originally, he was designed as a strong villain and then he turned into our Harry Mudd. We mostly ended up using Kidd in comic relief situations."
The Queen of the Crown, meanwhile, is more like the queen in Disney's _Snow_White_ gone cosmic. "She is certainly one of the most evil characters in the series," Mandell agrees. "The Queen has this mammoth galactic empire and things aren't going quite well for her. She had her forces spread so thing that if she doesn't act soon, her empire is going to start crumbling. So, she begins to experiment with psycho-crystal technology, which is a great way to take souls from species and use their life forces to create Slaver Lords. The Queen is able to use these ghost forms as spies. She can see and hear through them. This way, she can stay right in her castle and maintain control."
"Her only problem is that she can't find a life force strong enough to power the Slaver Lords. Most of the aliens she has tried just don't work. Suddenly, some humans show up and their spiritual force is so strong that she finds that she can use one of them to create a very powerful Slaver Lord that will last a long time. She becomes so obsessed with hunting humans." The first two episodes of the _Galaxy_Ranger_ series, "Phoenix" and "New Frontier," recount how Zachary Foxx lost part of his wife's essence to the Queen's psychocrypt.
"I tried to create a very strong universe because I figured up front I was doing 65 episodes," Mandell explains. "I didn't want to do a typical format show where every day the same thing is happening. I knew it was a dangerous approach in dealing with young kids because they like the repetition. I tried to make the stories as diversified as possible. For example, many episodes don't have all the four Rangers in them. And that's unheard of in animation strips." Some episodes don't feature any rangers, spotlighting instead, Foxx's children and the Kiwis.
Among Mandell's writing staff is Brian Daley, who helped embellish the _Star_Wars_ saga through radio adaptations and Han Solo novels, as well as other noted authors. "The project's story editors, are Owen Locke, head of Del Rey Books, and Chris Rowley. The three of us mapped out the initial elements of the universe. Through Owen, I've met several of the Del Rey writers. We started bringing in other writers, including Brian Daley." Novelist Tom De Haven scripted Goose's bounty-hunting exploits in "Galaxy Stranger" and "One Million Emotions" in which the Rangers chase after an alien sculpture which assaults its bearer with a range of feelings; Lucia Robeson, bestselling author of _Ride_of_the_Wind_ contributed "Mistwalker," based on an adventure of the real-life Texas Rangers. Jimmy Lasino, another Del Rey writer, penned the no-hold-barred "Birds of a Feather" that utilized many of the Rangers' rogues' gallery in pursuit of Bubble Head, a Memory Bird in possession of the Supertrooper juice formula.
"In addition to writers who had experience writing books, I also wanted to get new writers involved to infuse the stories with some new ideas and characterizations. I avoided accomplished cartoon writing people as I did the typical actors for cartoons," Mandell explains. "I wanted the natural quality of an actor's voice portraying the character as opposed to the commercial-oriented announcerish style that most producers feel comfortable with just because the audience can understand every work they say." It was this thinking that garnered Jerry (_F/X_) Orbach his first animated role, voicing Zachary Foxx.
TOYS AREN'T US
The producer's method of drafting more writers for the series proved a bit unorthodox. "I took ads in the _New_York_Times_, _The_Village_Voice_, circulated some flyers and put up some posters in colleges," Mandell says. "At the time, it seemed a bad idea because I was suddenly swamped with thousands and thousands of submissions. Of course, how do you choose writers based on a little sample? It was _almost_ impossible."
But Mandell and staff were in a race against time to produce 65 episodes within a one-year time limit and pushed on. "Owen, Chris, and I started weeding though the stuff," he recalls. "And we did manage to find a pretty good group. We had to accept many scripts that were not necessarily as polished as we would have liked them to be, but we had the flexibility to modify the script throughout the whole production schedule. So, as long as the plot was there, I could put the script into the storyboarding phase, and then modify it again during the actual recording session." What became advantageous to the producer was his method of recording dialogue--the actors perform the script initially as a guide for the animators in Tokyo, but the final soundtrack is comprised of the actors "looking" their lines along with the finished episode. "It's more expensive and more time consuming," admits Mandell, "but you can't compare the results. It's like apples and oranges. The actors get to see the characters and the situation.
Though Mandell earned the luxuries of time and money, he still lacked the one thing that would have made producing _Galaxy_Rangers_ simpler--a toy deal. "The most unusual thing about _Rangers_ is that it is the only daily strip [airing once a day for a five-day period] to get produced without the major support of a toy company," he says. "There are now toys, but the licensing came _after_ the show went into production. When I put the concept together in January 1984, the idea of a strip production was just becoming very big."
"The syndication marketplace was just starting to explode in '84 because of the sucess of _He-Man_&_The_Masters_of_the_Universe_. _He-Man_ really set the trend for producing animation with heavy toy company involvement. Toy companies have always been involved in Saturday morning animation, but never to the extent that they were producing 65 half hours of animation. It's an extremely expensive endeavor. The average cost per strip has been somewhere near $15 million, which is a phenomenal amount of money--its like the budget for a major motion picture. Most companies that get involved are really looking for the big toy hit, because it's the only way a financier can expect a return."
Mandell admits there are some advantages when a producer has a toy company backing his project. "Toy comapnies commit a certain amount of advertising and that whole media support of a project. That media awareness can make or break a show. It has hurt _Galaxy_Rangers_ to a certaing degree because we went on the air without any of the media hype that shows like _Thundercats_ or _Brave_Starr_ have gotten."
Eventually, Tom Battista of ITF Enterprises, who had Americanized _Voltron_, put Mandell in touch with the Gaylord Production Company. "The Gaylord people got involved not because there was a toy company behind it--they hoped to get a toy company--but because they liked the show's feel. They thought it was going to be an exciting adventure show for kids."
But the producer had more than youngsters in mind for his demographics. "I wanted to put enough into the show, so that it would not only spill over into a teen market, but that parents could watch and enjoy it with their kids."
With 65 episodes behind him, and his own NY-based company, Transcom Media, Inc., formed, Mandell is aiming for another shootout with the financiers on his current projects. "_Kaduna_Memories_ is an SF detective story which takes the classic Phillip Marlowe elements and puts them in a science-fiction setting," Mandell remarks. "It's similar to what _Blade_Runner_ did, but it's not as dark or heavy. The lead character is Felix McTurk, a private eye who is looking to be a super detective, and he falls in a situation that is out of his control. There will be an extensive use of computer animation because in the world of 2180 there is whole other universe called Cyberspace. Chris Rowley and I developed the concept."
"I also own a property called _Eridahn_ based on a book by Robert F. Young--not the _Marcus_Welby_ actor," he adds.
"Unfortunately, Young passed away and won't be able to see the book's fruition. It's a terrific story, kind of a combination of Indiana Jones and _Time_Machine_. And the third project, _Musikins_, is for younger kids. It's about a young group of musicians travelling across a fantasy land looking to discover the 'lost sounds.'"
At this point, Mandell is only waiting for the time to be right to produce his dream project, Larry Niven's _Ringworld_. "In order to be done right, _Ringworld_ would have to use a major motion picture with a combination of puppetry, cel animation, computer animation, live action--a full range of effects."
The producer sees the upcoming _Who_Framed_Roger_Rabbit?_, the Steven Spielberg-Robert Zemeckis project which combines live action and animated characters as a positive sign. "This is where filmmaking is going to be headed," Robert Mandell says. "There is no reason why a really solid action-adventure film cannot be done in animation. Anything can be done in animation if done well. If the elements that go into making the product are competently done, and the illusion is created and held through 90 minutes, there is no reason an animated adventure film can't work."